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My daughter has been attending a performing arts group for about 6 months now, and she absolutely loves it. Yes, of course I’ve encouraged this love of performing, as it has featured strongly in my own background, with years of musicals and school plays, and eventually moving on to directing shows as well. It’s been my dream, since I sat backstage during a production of ‘Oliver’, 8 months pregnant, with swollen feet and heartburn, determined to do the makeup for the cast, that one day my little kiddies would tread the boards someday too. If they’re not fussed on it, and would rather do karate or gymnastics, then that’s obviously okay – but there’s a tiny, (well rather big), part of me that truly hopes my son will grow to have a gorgeous high tenor voice and that my daughter might dance like a graceful ballerina and, like me, take joy and excitement from taking part in a theatrical production.

Mary PoppinsI recently had the amazing experience of taking Amelia to see her first ever musical. We went to see Cameron Mackintosh’s production of ‘Mary Poppins’, and it was out of this world. What I loved, even more than the colourful spectacle of the show, was watching the delight and awe in her face as she watched the dancers and singers dazzle the audience. As a theatre-lover and her Mum, it was amazing moment for me.

Today, the Belfast Children’s Festival (supported by the Arts Council) launched in our city, and I’m already really keen to take Amelia and Adam along to some of the productions. Young at Art are have announced the line-up today, for what will be the 18th annual festival and it will run from 4-9 March 2016. Families are invited to come along, look at, make and talk about the very best art for children and young people aged 0-14 years old in a wide variety of art forms, music, dance, theatre and visual arts from all over the world.

This year, they’ve designed two ‘BIG FESTIVAL DAYS OUT’ on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 March, the festival has teamed with partner venues to offer jam-packed family –fun programmes. This year families are encouraged to take a ‘creative journey’ to the festival with discounted tickets to Belfast via Translink, then downloading the travel activity pack with suggested fun on the journey and visit their website to plot a festival itinerary and avail of an online early bird ticket offer. There will be Big Festival Days Out hubs located at the MAC, Strand Arts Centre (5 March) and the Lyric and Duncairn Arts Centre (6 March).

The 2016 festival will host a plethora of international guests including: Vorstadt Theater, Switzerland presenting Bambi (4- 5 March), Norwegian Katja Lindeburg’s two charming clown shows If Only Rosa Could do Magic (8-9 March) and If Only Blue Could be a Super Hero (8 March) and festival regulars Branar presenting an adaptation of the popular Oliver Jeffers novel The Way Back Home (4-8 March). Festival favourites such as Baby Rave (6 March), Pre-teenage Kicks (6 March) and Mini Mid Week Magic (9 March) will also feature in the programme.

The 2016 festival will also boast a strong literature programme in association with Eason’s and Children’s Books Ireland, giving families the opportunity to meet award winning authors and illustrators such as Marie Louise Fitzpatrick (5 March) (Izzy and Skunk, Silly Daddy and There, Mummy), Sheena Wilkinson (6 March) (Taking Flight and Too Many Ponies) and Kitty Crowther (8 March) (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner). Fighting Words Belfast will celebrate their first year in Belfast inspiring local children and young people to get involved in creative writing with a number of interactive events including the Library of Stories (5-6 March) – a portable library of stories and publications written entirely by children and young people.

The festival also offers a diverse programme aimed at adults, professional arts practitioners and those working and studying in related fields. Highlights include the annual TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Northern Ireland showcase, welcoming delegates from all over the world. Local artists presenting work at the showcase this year include, Maiden Voyage Dance with their imaginative new dance performance for children and young people aged between 4-8 years old, Pause & Effect (5-8 March); Replay Theatre Company’s Snoozle and the Lullabugs (4-6 March) a multi sensory performance aimed at children under 5 years old with profound and multiple learning difficulties and Young at Art’s Everything That Isn’t Me (7 March) sponsored by Belfast Harbour exploring environmental issues with young people.

Tickets are now on sale. For more information and to download a copy of the programme see www.youngatart.co.uk or call 028 9024 3042.